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Monday, November 14, 2011

Sticking my neck out: some notes toward a personal theology

What do you stand for?

“Unitarians don’t stand; we move.” This means all of the following is a flow, an evolving process.

On Ultimate Reality: I think the human race is happily evolving past the notion of a personal, supernatural God up in heaven, who can be button-holed, addressed, persuaded to intervene, and is able to suspend the laws of nature. In fact, the word “God” is so loaded with antiquated and patently false baggage, that many Unitarians find it unhelpful. This does NOT mean, however, that there is no higher level of being that we can experience and draw nourishment from. I prefer the term ‘numinous’ to describe that which lies beyond that which can perceive and readily talk about. I may not be able to apprehend it, wrestle it to the ground, and pin it down in scientific language, but I’m reasonably sure it has something to do with truth, beauty, and love. Having a sense of the numinous is the chief aim of worship, and indispensable for living a fully human life. And it is natural, not supernatural.

On church community: Officially, we call ourselves a church, and we meet in a ‘meeting house’. This is neither an error nor a contradiction. A ‘church’ is not bricks-and-mortar; a church is an inclusive spiritual community of the self-selected, who share a common spiritual orientation to, and mission in, the wider world. The notion of ‘church’ comes to us through the Christian tradition, and is modelled on the way in which a certain Galilean prophet drew people together in common purpose—excluding no-one who came seeking wholeness through such fellowship. It differed radically at the time from the notion of ‘temple’, with its ethno-centricity and high barriers to membership. Our ‘meeting house’ is just that, a democratized, de-mystified space largely free of the iconography usually found in temples and churches, where our community can be together.

On the Unitarian ethos of freedom, reason, and tolerance: We are the only denomination whose name bespeaks a theological orientation, yet we have no set theology. The chief defining impulse of our movement is freedom—we would be free of coercive creeds, free of any authority outside our own best, considered judgement. That considered judgement weighs both the dictates of reason and moral conscience; we are a thinking, reflective person’s church, rightly sceptical of dogma. Tolerance is a necessary concomitant to freedom: as we would be free, we would defend the right of others to be free, even (and especially) if we don’t happen to agree with them. It is a necessary concomitant, because we recognize the need for the nourishment of a loving community. By and large, this effort is successful, since our fellowship includes both theist and atheist, liberal Christian and Buddhist, Jew and new-age eco-spiritualists. We draw on the teachings the other major world faiths, as well as science, the humanities, and the arts. We are a non-creedal church that embraces diversity.